Friday, November 27, 1998
Mary Ann Wooters woke up one morning recently and, before she even rolled out of bed, thought, "I have been doing this for 3,050 days now - seven days a week and holidays." Then she got up and did "this" one more day. "This" is feeding, cleaning up after, and sometimes medicating more than 150 permanent residents and a varying number of temporary guests of Second Chance Wildlife Center near Grantville. Wooters' residents and patients are usually wild animals brought to her after becoming the victims of gunshot wounds or being hit by cars. Or they are exotic animals saved from destruction when a pet owner learns that not all critters are appropriate for human households.
By "sheer will," Wooters says, and the devoted assistance of a handful of volunteers, she has provided for the needs of an uncounted host of birds and beasts, including opossums, raccoons, iguanas, hedgehogs, fawns, birds of prey, even lions and tigers rescued from failed animal shows. Her funding? The donations of people who care and a modest admission fee for groups wishing to tour her sprawling Coweta County facility. In addition, school children and families sponsor animals, several local businesses contribute supplies regularly, and professionals like veterinarians contribute or reduce fees for their services. The greater part of her donations, both of money and volunteer time, comes from Fayette County. "We get a lot of support from schools in Peachtree City," Wooters said in a recent on-the-fly telephone interview. "Cheyenne [a Bengal tiger] is the Fayette County High School mascot. Students are trying to raise money to help with her expenses." Wooters has expanded her operation year by year since she began in 1989, when someone left two fawns in her care. She is state- and federally-certified as a wild animal rehabilitator and exhibitor, keeping only those animals that are not self-sufficient enough for release. Today she is planning to start construction of a sort of wild animal park with a welcome center, space for buses, an animal nursery, a rehabilitation facility, and a nature trail. She has about 130 acres to work with: "Atlanta Zoo sits on 40," she remarks, with just a hint of smugness. "We have built a lot of new habitats, like constructing a bird-of-prey flight pen for the rehab of large birds," she said. "That was a major undertaking. We're trying to focus on rehab and doing our tours. Do you know more than 3,000 kids came through [on tours] last year?" In addition to the FCHS connection, many Peachtree City schools make field trips to Second Chance, and kids from Peachtree City day camps come in the summer, Wooters said. Such tours are her best source of financial support: she charges $4 per child, $6 for adults. "We still do out-reach programs," she added, referring to the veritable road show she occasionally puts on, like those she has done for John Tanner State Park in Carrollton where no funding is available for field trips. "They'll arrange for a group of kids at $1 a child - it goes over real big."
Trouble is, road shows take time and require the cooperation of volunteers to pull off. Next to money, time is Wooters' most precious commodity. She knows that putting on demonstrations and exhibits can yield income, but between caring for the animals and working five nights a week at Charlie Horse Steakhouse - where her boss has been super about her occasional need to come in late or leave early because of an emergency call, she said - the time just isn't there.
"Part of my problem is I don't have the time to pursue connections," she said. "For example, I've been working with the Chief of Police in Peachtree City [Jim Murray] to work out a program for first-time offenders for kids who are borderline, who need to do community service. "It's a great idea, but sometimes it's more trouble than help to teach them and supervise them and then have them gone. But the more you involve the community, the more support you get.
"I'm pretty much running this by myself, with volunteers," Wooters continued. "Four come on a regular basis and spend the whole day. Jacquie Solsvig is my right arm - she's been coming for about two and a half years, even more now. She's an officer of the corporation.
"I need more volunteers, and a grant or a large ongoing corporate sponsorship to pay a full-time person."
Other ways people can help include "adopting" an animal. The animal stays at Second Chance, of course, but its sponsoring individual or group gets a picture and a biography. The adoption fee varies according to the animal's cost of living - Wooters said she can be flexible and work out a fee schedule for the most modest of budgets, say, one based on a school child's allowance.
No fund-raiser is planned at present, she added, but she is hoping to do something special for Christmas - something along the lines of "Santa in the deer barn," and possibly as soon as the second weekend in December. Watch for an announcement in this paper.